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Cyclone victims are helping themselves

Tuesday 1 March 2016 | Published in Regional

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Fiji’s remote interior has only received its first supplies almost a week after Cyclone Winston, reports Radio New Zealand’s Alex Perrottet, from Nadalei, Fiji.

The category five cyclone tore through most of the country, badly affecting the Western Division of Fiji. I drove there to find out how people are doing.

The road to Nadalei village in Fiji’s interior is a bumpy path through almost complete destruction.

I am travelling with Sister Kalala Kiutau who taught at the Nadalei school for four years. She’s bringing a $6000 donation she just received from a friend.

“Teaching the village children was something special for me. I wanted to them to have a life, that’s the only way of cutting the cycle of poverty,” she says.

In the distance the hills are barren, or with bent and twisted trees like thin wiry hairs on a camel’s back. In front of us, there is rubble where there used to be houses.

We come across another half of a house. Gita lives there with her daughter Shimran and son Tanish.

Shimran wants to get back to school soon, but can’t get there when the dirt road is flooded.

Gita tells me about her experience during the cyclone. She went to her prayer room to pray, and the room next to it lost its roof.

“You know I was scared. We couldn’t say any more things, it was just praying,” she says.

As we leave, a neighbour drops by to deliver a food hamper. No aid has reached this far yet and people are helping each other.

We finally arrive in Nadalei, where a tank on the hill is overflowing with water – the one consolation for these devastated people.

Sister Kalala’s convent is no more.

“This used to be the kitchen. This is the kitchen and this is the dining room, oh man,” she tells me.

“Oh man I want to cry.”

Leone Raselala is the head teacher of Nadalei Catholic School, which is housing 15 families. He says it was a harrowing night.

“I was helping the evacuees, because the classrooms got wet due to the strong winds. All these rooms were wet.

“People had umbrellas, holding their umbrellas in the evacuation centre. Inside the room, and trying to stop the wind from opening the door.”

He talks about Semi Nasalasala, who is lying asleep his body bruised and bandaged.

He was torn from his family and thrown from his house. They found him three hours later half buried in rubble, with a deathly cold body.

“This is him. He was so cold. He could have died of the cold that day. If they were not early to find him. If we had waited for dawn, he would have been dead by then.”

Teresia Cawai is here too, a single mum with her three children. She farms and sells food to get by, but there’s nothing left.

“I’m selling some vegetables, fruits, planting cassava, to help my babies’ clothes, needs and wants.”

On a roof, a team of men are working, already. Sister Kalala says it’s a hopeful sign.

“Despite the suffering, there’s hope. People are already nailing one house here, and that gives hope, that they don’t just sit around and wait for help.”

Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama has been working his way around the country. Today he is here in Nadalei. The people gather quickly.

In the talanoa session, people are direct. An old man asks for a proper road. The PM tells him first things first. A lady with facial scars emotionally tells of her pain and says her house has never had any water connected. She’s upset.

Sister Kalala asks the prime minister whether he has a plan to deal with the psychological and emotion trauma people have experienced.

“We are depending on people like you,” Bainimarama replies.

“That subject has not come up but I know that problem exists, I know for a fact. We need to sort that out at some stage.”

The PM knows there will be many problems to solve. One is the economy.

“That has been going up, been growing at a rapid rate. But all of that went down the drain in 24 hours when Winston came along. So we need to go back, get back on track.”

But he says the Fiji character will pull through.

Sister Kalala says Fiji is a religious country – Muslims, Hindus and all kinds of Christians. She says faith will help them in this time of suffering.

“It’s very important for the people to know that they not alone at this time. That’s kind of a moral support. And if it’s not coming I will insist that it will happen.”

- RNZI